The following article is reprinted in full from Sophia, Issue #8, Winter, 2001

Good Liturgy: From Above or From Below?

by Leroy T. Matthiesen, Bishop Emeritus of Amarillo

As much as I loved Latin, having studied it for six years, six days a week in the seminary, taught it for years at Price College and St. Lucian's Preparatory Seminary, and would love to teach it again if the years had not caught up with me, I joined the Vernacular Society and attended one of its secret meetings in Oklahoma City during a Liturgical Study Week in the early 1950's. Along with its members, I argued for the use of the vernacular in liturgical celebrations. The movement quickly gained momentum, at which point a decree came from the Vatican ordering professors of theology to teach their classes in Latin. Not only that, but to use the Roman pronunciation of Latin and, if they could not, to report to Rome to learn it. It was a last-gasp effort to hold the line. Shortly afterward, the use of the vernacular in liturgical celebrations was permitted though Latin was still preferred. Today, Latin is no longer taught in seminaries. Like others, I miss the glorious sounds of Gregorian Chant that solemnized special occasions, but not in ordinary parish Masses, where it was poorly done without congregational participation.

I recall the failed effort to salvage Latin by edict when I see, in the General Introduction to the upcoming third edition of the Roman Missal, proposals that seem to be designed to take us back to preliturgical renewal times. For example:

These functions are to be carried out by ordained ministers, deacons and priests. It seems such clerics are determined to recover lost turf.

Thankfully, such rubrics proposed in the new General Introduction to the Roman Missal (GIRM) are being discussed by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, urged on by the National Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Conferences. Surely, common sense will prevail. Since Eucharistic ministers may and do take the Bread and the cup of Precious Blood in hand to present to communicants, why prohibit them from pouring the Previous Blood into the cups to assist the priest celebrant or from purifying the sacred vessels and washing the purificators?

Interestingly, a specific regulation in an earlier GIRM, that directed women readers at Mass to stand outside the sanctuary, was so widely ignored, even in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, that proposed revisions omit that bit of legalism. If the minute directives referred to in this article get into the revised GIRM, they will surely and deservedly suffer the same fate.

There is a revealing difference between the way Pope John Paul II, in his global pilgrimages, participated in culturally diverse liturgical celebrations and the restrictive directives that have increasingly emanated from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.

The Holy Father, as Bishop of Rome, "first among equals," in the body of bishops, is the symbol of unity in the Church. With the bishops of the world, he forms the magisterium, teachers of doctrine and formulators of liturgical norms, among other things. Experience amply demonstrates that carrying out of liturgical norms is best left to local churches, under the leadership of their bishops, guided by the wisdom of their national conferences and rooted in the lives and experiences of the Christian faithful.